Archive for June 7th, 2008

The Downham experience

June 7, 2008

As Ladywell Pool is temporarily closed I have been forced to use Downham Pool for my swims and I have to say, there’s much to be enjoyed, and although it’s not the swimming heaven that those with an interest in it want it to be, it’s a really pretty pool.

One excellent feature is that the pool room has a terrific window on the park side and that does brighten up the experience. I’ve been told that it presents problems with the glare of the sun over the surface of the pool water that makes it difficult for the lifeguards to spot what’s happening there at some times of day. Indeed I was already aware of a precise guideline about avoiding south-facing windows to keep in mind when designing pools but I suppose that it’s not written in stone and if the view is deserving then one can forget about it and add a sunglasses allowance to the lifeguards’ wages.

More pluses, the lockers give you your money back, the cubicles are generously sized, there are free hairdryers, the showers are warm (maybe even a bit too warm) and they have doors too.

It’s got a bar with a real person serving you. There are healthy options on the menu (including an orange squeezing machine) and the bar has a terrace on the park.

The centre has also other services, noticeably a library and a surgery but I can’t really comment on those as I haven’t used them and I don’t think I ever will actually. Maybe the library if I have to kill an hour sometimes. Anyway, probably people there like them.

Now let’s say what I don’t like of the centre.

The first impression as one approaches is not one that inspires much, the design is again that of the ever popular shoebox, it’s made of rather uninspiring dark bricks and if it wasn’t for the large glass doors it would look more like a wharehouse than anything else. You can say that it’s a no frills centre, you can say that the local authority didn’t waste public money on extravagant features, you can say any other formula like that and you would be right. You could also say that it looks cheap and you would be right too. It’s a PFI building after all, it has a shelf life of 30 years. But I have to say that inside it’s completely different, it’s very bright and clean, no complaint there.

But let’s speak now of the one thing that really disappoints me and it is of course the size of the pool. I know that all modern pools are now 25 m but the reason for that is that this world is run by the beancounters. Every length is an anticlimax, it’s just short. And this reflects on the quality of the exercise, I just don’t get as tired, at parity of time spent swimming it’s definitely much less of a work out. I swam for 50 minutes the other day, try do that at Ladywell, you end up massacred. To break every 33 m instead of every 25 m does make a big difference.

The only satisfaction that I can get out of its length is that I can swim a full length under water, a thing that I’ve been trying to do for ages at Ladywell but never managed to, I always get out of comfort zone just a few strokes before the end and there I emerge, at Downham it’s a breeze. It’s also very shallow, so shallow that if I stand on my toes in the deep end I can keep my head above water. I won’t be diving there, I’m just too scared of scratching my nose.

To complete this series of moans about the size of the pool I also have to say that the lanes are narrow, if more than one person is swimming in one lane you should really avoid breast strokes. Today I had a lane all for myself and as a little game I tried to touch both lane floats at the same time whilst doing breast strokes in the middle of the lane, I never managed to do it but only by a tiny measure.

But I don’t want to sound horrible, it’s a nice place, I can’t wait to bring my daughter because the teaching pool looks really good and for a suburban area like Downham it’s probably the one thing that is most likely to brighten up the average day of many of the residents.

I can even envisage myself choosing to go there instead of Loampit Vale when Ladywell closes in a few years time, it’s likely to be much less crowded and the green is very pleasant, I can very easily ignore the cheap PFI look of its exterior and just enjoy myself.